Ezio was silent. This he also knew.

“So,” Leonardo concluded. “Now you know.”

“Why have you come here?”

“To make amends. I had to assure you that my heart is not with them.”

“And what do they want of you?”

“Whatever they can get! War machines are the main thing. They know what I am capable of.”

Leonardo produced a packet of papers, which he handed over. “Here are some of the designs I’ve done for them. Look! Here is an armored vehicle capable, if correctly constructed, of moving across all terrains—and the men concealed within it can fire guns—big guns—while remaining fully protected from all assaults. I call it a tank.”

Ezio blanched as his eye scanned the drawings. “And is it…under construction?”

Leonardo looked artful. “I said ‘if correctly constructed.’ Unfortunately, as the design stands, the thing is only able to swivel on its own axis!”

“I see.” Ezio smiled.

“And look at this.”

Ezio perused a drawing of a horseman managing two horses, harnessed side by side. To their traces were attached, by long horizontal poles, in front and at the rear—where there were also wheels—rotating scythelike devices, to cut down any enemy at which the horseman rode. “A fiendish device,” he said.

“Yes! But unfortunately the horseman himself is…fully exposed.” Leonardo’s eyes twinkled some more.

Ezio’s smile broadened, but then faded again. “But what of the guns you have given them?”

Leonardo shrugged. “One has to throw a sop to Cerberus,” he said. “I have to give them something of actual use or they will grow suspicious.”

“But they are very efficient guns.”

“Indeed they are—but they are not half as efficient as that little pistol I made for you once, years ago, based on the design from the Codex page. A pity, really—I had trouble reining myself in on that one!”

Ezio thought sadly of his lost Codex weapons. But he would come back to them.

“What else is in this packet of papers?”

Although they were alone, Leonardo lowered his voice. “I have copied the plans not only for the largest of the machines, but also of where they are to be used in battle.” He spread his hands ironically. “Alas, that they should not be more efficient!”

Ezio looked at his old friend admiringly. This was the man who had designed a submarine for the Venetians to use against the Turkish galleys! If he had chosen not to build in defects to these designs, there would be no hope at all against the Borgia. How glad he was to have welcomed Leonardo as he had. This man was worth more than two armies.

“For God’s sake, Leo, have a glass of wine at least. I know I can never reward you enough for all this.”

But Leonardo waved the proffered beaker away. “There is far graver news. You know they have the Apple?”

“Of course.”

“They have given it to me to study. You and I already know something of the extent of its powers. Rodrigo knows a little less, but he has more intellect than Cesare, though Cesare is the one to watch.”

“How much information on the Apple have you given them?”

“As little as possible, but I have to give them something. Fortunately, Cesare seems satisfied—so far—with the limited applications I have vouchsafed him. But Rodrigo knows there is more and grows impatient.” He paused. “I have considered ways of stealing it, but it is kept under close guard, and I am only allowed access to it under the strictest supervision. But I was able to use its powers to locate you. It has that facility, you know. Quite fascinating.”

“And you taught them that trick?”

“Of course not! All I want is to return it to its rightful owner.”

“Fear not, Leo. We will recover it. In the meantime, stall them as far as you can, and if you can, keep me posted on how much you have let them know.”

“I will.”

Ezio paused. “There is something else.”

“Tell me.”

“I have lost all the Codex weapons you once fashioned for me.”

“I see.”

“Except for the original hidden-blade. But the pistol, the poison-blade, the double-blade, the miraculous bracer—all these are gone.”

“Hmm,” said Leonardo. Then he smiled. “Well, recreating them for you may not be a problem.”

“Really?” Ezio could scarcely believe it.

“The designs you let me have are still in Florence, well hidden with my old assistants Agniolo and Innocento. The Borgia will never have them. If they ever—heaven forfend!—took Florence, or even if the French did, Agniolo has strict orders to destroy them, and even he and Innocento—not that I do not trust them absolutely—would never be able to re-create them independently of me. But I—I never forget a design. However—”

He hesitated, almost embarrassed. “You must pay me for the raw materials I will need. In advance.”

Ezio was astonished. “Really? They are not paying you at il Vaticano?”

Leonardo coughed. “Very…very little. I suppose they think that keeping me alive is payment enough. And I am not such a fool as to think that the minute my services become…superfluous to requirements, they will not kill me with as little reflection as they might kill a dog.”

“Hardly that,” said Ezio. “They would rather you were dead than have you work for anyone else.”

“Yes, I’ve been thinking along the same lines,” said Leonardo. “And there’s really nowhere to run. Not that I want to—I want to see the Borgia crushed—I’ll engage myself so far in politics as to say that! But my beloved Milan is in French hands…” he started to muse. “Perhaps…later…when all this is over…I might even try my luck in France. They say it’s a very civilized country…”

It was time to bring him back to reality. Ezio went to an ironbound chest and from it produced a leather pouch bulging with ducats. This he gave to Leonardo.

“Payment on account for the Codex weapons,” he said briskly. “When can you have them ready?”

Leonardo considered. “It won’t be as easy as it was last time,” he said. “I must work secretly, and alone—for I cannot wholly trust all the assistants I have working for me here.” He paused. “Let me contact you again. As soon as possible, I promise.” He hefted the heavy bag in his hand. “And who knows, for this much money I may even be able to throw in a couple of new weapons—my own inventions this time, of course, but effective, I think you’ll find.”

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